Can it be possible, a positive drugs story coming out of Baltimore? Some Baltimore junkies have been given PDA’s (Palm pilots rather than Crackberries). They were asked to keep track of the activities and daily habits associated with their habits and the data were used to draw a series of maps like the one on the left. Unlike the fictionalised Baltimore of The Wire, this surveillance of drug users is about harm reduction, not law enforcement (at least I hope not.)
This project is great interest to us here at YourBrainonDrugs.net. After all, we are developing a mainstream version of exactly this sort of smartphone technology. Our data will be highly anonymised and we aren’t targeting problematic drug users. We would still like to be able analyse without stigmatizing? So our focus and the data we collect will be very different. But there are no doubt a lot of lessons for us in a project like this.
David Epstein, along with lead investigator Dr. Kenzie L. Preston and biostatistician Ian Craig, are literally mapping the ecology of addiction in Baltimore. That mapping begins by providing drug users who have sought out-patient treatment at the NIDA clinic with a Palm Pilot PDA. The drug users are sent on their way and randomly prompted by the PDA to answer questions about their mood, their stress level, and cues in their environment that may lead to relapse. They also activate the PDA when they are tempted to reuse or if they get high. In addiction research, this type of repeated sampling of subjects’ behaviors and experiences in real time, in the real world, is called “ecological momentary assessment,” or EMA. The technique has greatly enhanced the study of tobacco addiction, Epstein says, but “it has rarely been attempted in individuals with cocaine or heroin addiction.”
Epstein and his colleagues are taking the technique a step further by charting their subjects’ movement in space. To do this, they issue participants GPS tracking devices. “There are significant studies of animals, about how they move and where they move in particular environments. We wanted to do something similar with our human participants,” says Preston. “I had this idea that when people were using drugs they had certain patterns of places they went, and when they stopped as part of treatment, that pattern would change.”
- Snoop from ‘The Wire’ arrested in Baltimore (news-briefs.ew.com)
- A mental map of city street drugs (mindhacks.com)
- ‘The Wire’s ‘Snoop’ feels ‘targeted’ by Baltimore police (news-briefs.ew.com)
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